Environmental group Ontario Place for All announced Tuesday it is seeking an injunction to halt the Ford government’s redevelopment plans for Toronto’s West Island, which includes a mega spa. The organization is demanding a full environmental assessment before the development proceeds, a step the group says Ford’s government has refused.
“Ontario Place for All is committed to using all possible avenues to hold the provincial government accountable for their actions at Ontario Place and ensuring they follow the proper process, which would involve public consultation on the West Island redevelopment,” said co-chair Norm Di Pasquale in a statement sent to Canada’s National Observer. “This filing is one of those avenues. We just want the government to follow its own laws.”
In recent months, the provincial government's Ontario Place plan has faced substantial public opposition, primarily over the loss of green space and secretive long-term lease land transfers to Therme. The Austrian resort developer was granted a 95-year lease from the government to build a private spa at Ontario Place on Toronto's West Island waterfront, currently used as a popular picnic and park area. The company claims the lengthy contract is essential to recover its multimillion-dollar investment. Since the original lease was awarded, Therme amended its development application to allocate about 16 acres of public parkland on the West Island for a new beach, boardwalk and cycling trails.
The decision to lease the land to Therme was made behind closed doors and presented to the public as a done deal.
Earlier this month, Ontario's auditor general announced they would conduct value-for-money audits on the Ontario Place redevelopment, including the West Island, and the decision to relocate the Ontario Science Centre to Toronto's waterfront within Ontario Place.
The group says thousands of supporters across the province demand the government halt its demolition activities to ensure the environmental impact of this proposal can be fully understood by the people of Ontario.
The proposed redevelopment of the West Island entails the complete eradication of the ecosystem that has thrived over the past five decades, reads a statement from Ontario Place for All. This includes the removal of every tree, which totals around 840 with over 600 mature trees.
All existing vegetation will be cleared, and landscape contours designed by internationally recognized architect Michael Hough will also be levelled, added the statement.
The project would fill lagoons and small waterways on the West Island, resulting in the destruction of approximately 36,000 square metres of aquatic habitat that currently supports resident and migratory fish species. This extensive lake filling is intended to add roughly 12 acres to the size of the West Island, said Ontario Place for All.
In recent months, the Ford government's Ontario Place plan has faced public opposition, primarily over the loss of green space and secretive 95-year lease land transfers to the Austrian resort developer Therme to build a private spa at Ontario Place.
“Our legal action is a bold statement against the irreversible harm posed by the proposed redevelopment,” said Emmy Egulu, a member of Ontario Place for All. “Ontario Place belongs to the people, and any change to its landscape must be fully understood and agreed upon by those it serves — the community of Ontario.”
While both Therme and the Ford government have refrained from publicly disclosing the contract's specifics, citing confidentiality, the Austrian firm driving the project said it is injecting nearly half a billion dollars into Ontario Place. This financial commitment includes $350 million to build the 65,000-square-foot private spa and an additional $100 million for portions that will remain publicly accessible.
More than 900 people took part in public consultations on the future of the site held by city staff in April. Most Toronto residents who participated did not support the West Island redevelopment plans, a staff report noted.
Canada’s National Observer reached out to Ontario's Ministry of Infrastructure for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.